Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Are We There Yet?

The cabins we stayed in at Hank's Resort

Did you ever take long car trips when you were a kid? Ever wonder how you made it through them? We vacationed in Minnesota from the time my Mom & Dad were married until now. Here is a short story I wrote about our trips to Minnesota...Mom, Cathy & me (the little one) in the new Chevy

Having fun at the lake. That's me with the braid.

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? The question my parents were asked endlessly on the way to northern Minnesota when I was a child. Six hundred miles. A never ending, restless, sticking to the plastic seat covers trip. Sizzling hot comes close to describing the feel of legs touching the plastic as you slide across into the backseat. Sometimes Mom thought ahead and brought a towel, saving the back of our legs from looking like we had lain out in the sun too long. Those were the sixties. A time of free love, drugs, the moon landing, civil defense drills, Vietnam, Woodstock, the Beatles and the Monkees. The free love and drugs just passed me by. By the end of the sixties I was in junior high and was not aware. Growing up in the country next to a small town named Elburn, which is short for Melbourne in northern Illinois, I lived a very sheltered life. The typical small town with a grocery store, drug store, 5 & dime, butcher and bank. In the last year, the grocery store and the drug store closed. A big chain store came to town. Everyone calls it progress, but I disagree. We lose so much to gain a few cents or a few minutes.
I have great memories of my time in the country. We had a three-bedroom house on an acre of land with plenty of room to play with Barbies. My Barbies were tough. Not the sophisticated doll Mattel had in mind. They had a lot of outside adventures. My favorite was the blond with the ponytail. Climbing trees, swinging on the rope swing, swimming in the pool. She would do laps and dives off the edge, never losing her black and white striped suit. But her hair was never the same after swimming. The rubber band fell out of the ponytail, leaving a huge bald, rubber spot in the back. Did they think we would never let their hair down? Barbie’s hair felt, well scummy, if you can imagine, from whatever chemical was added to the pool. My sister and I were lucky to have worn swim caps, even though they made us look like aliens, saving our hair from the pool slime.

Cathy & me, lookin' pretty

Always barefoot. I can still feel the grass through my toes on a summer’s morning, moist from the dew, and the gravel in the driveway that made me walk like I was having a spaz attack. Enormous oak trees shaded most of the yard except the one side where we played badminton, wiffle ball, flew kites and my dad had his garden. Usually it was a garden of beauty but it would turn into the garden of horror when the big, black with yellow on their back spiders were out. Not to mention the bumblebees. A farmer’s son, my dad had several gardens which he tended to every day. He grew juicy red strawberries, rhubarb, many different vegetables and flowers. When we left for vacation in mid-July, our grandparents took turns coming over to water the garden and the house plants.

Time went by slowly while waiting for vacation but July was finally here and it was time to pack the car. The most memorable of car packing years was 1969. The year Apollo 11 landed on the moon. My parents didn’t want to miss the important event so we brought the TV with us. The nineteen-inch black and white portable. Not so portable by today’s standards. A car-top carrier was built out of wood and attached to the top of the car with large suction cups. Life jackets, fishing poles, minnow buckets, shoes, clothes, whatever fit went up there to be covered with a canvas tarp tied down with clothes line. The trunk space was now free for the TV. It was a enormous undertaking, but my dad was the master-packer. Everything was in its place. Four kids packed and ready to go. Now if we could just go to sleep so we could rise at three am.
And there we were. A family of six in a big roomy Chevy Impala. Bill, the youngest, sat in the front with Mom and Dad in his car seat. The car seat was unlike anything you would consider safe nowadays. Plaid plastic with two metal bars that wrapped around the back of the front seat. He sat up high, with his little red baseball cap on, curly hair hanging out the back (a baby mullet) steering with the miniature wheel and honking the squeaky red horn. Meanwhile in the backseat, the three of us would fight for our territory. My sister Cathy, the oldest, sat behind Mom. She usually slept the most of any of us or at least pretended to. My spot was behind Dad, brother Bob in the middle. Bob tended to get carsick. A little gray plastic pot was kept under the seat just in case lunch decided to make an exit.
Car packed the night before. Leave at 4am sharp. Drive straight through. It was like that every year.
Wisconsin at dawn is a beautiful sight. We took the back roads. The ones with the hills that roll gently into each other. I would stay awake and talk to Dad while everyone else slept. Being the responsible middle child that I was, I didn’t want him nodding off due to boredom. The scenes of those early mornings are as clear to me now as if I was eight again. Amazed at the hills, one after another. A child of Illinois. Flatlanders they call us. Fog in the fields, hovering over the small farm ponds and streams. Rays of sun poking out over the horizon like a laser light show at a Who concert. Wait, I flashed back to the wrong decade. The sky is shades of purple and pink and I am fighting sleep now with dreams mixing in with reality as everyone else starts to stir. Dad needs body fuel. The car slows as he stops for coffee, a donut and a stretch. I barely hear the crunch of gravel as we pull back onto the road before drifting off.
“Get you shoes on. Time to eat breakfast.” My stomach is growling with anticipation. Shall it be French toast with melted Wisconsin butter and sweet maple syrup or Frosted Flakes? Cathy stays in the car and sleeps the sleep of no other siblings bugging her.
After breakfast we knew that we would be given something to keep us busy. It could be a toy, a game, a coloring book or paper dolls. Anything to keep us busy. We still had a long way to go. My favorite game was Travel Bingo.
A couple naps, toys and games, a stop to empty the plastic pot and we are almost there. Our invisible territory lines drawn on the seat almost forgotten in the excitement. Two weeks of heaven. We see the sign.
Population 225.
Doesn't someone look upset that he couldn't hold the fish?


PatQ said...

I thought I had the only family that left at 4am on trips. Did our dads know each other?

Wheeler's Rabbit Hill Farm said...

A beautiful post. Stirred memories of my parent's Country Squire Wagon and the road trips to Niagra Falls all the way from Massachusetts.

fullfreezer said...

Wow, that brings back memories. We traveled with 6 of us in a Ford Van that my Dad had turned into a camper. We drove all over the country from home in Iowa as far as Florida and Alaska. I always loved the games we made up on the way. My Mom always had roadside scavenger hunts prepared ahead of time. I have tried to do some of those things with my children as well.
Thanks for the memories.

Chris W said...

Great post!

We took a family vacation once and my dad made it miserable. 30 minutes at Serpent Mound, 1 hour at Ohio Caverns, ran through Wright Patterson in 3 hours....one weekend of rushing and fast driving. I get jealous every time I hear about other peoples vacations...lol.

Barb and Steve said...

Thanks for all the comments. I also did the same things for my kids & my niece does the same for hers. That's a nice tradition to pass along.
I know what you mean about rushing through vacations! My parents didn't do that but we went on a car "adventure" with a bunch of British car enthusiasts up through Canada. It was beautiful scenery, but we were in such a hurry I could barely take pictures. Hard to focus at 60 mph!
Are you working at the farm yet?

Anonymous said...

We left on our vacations, every year for 2 weeks, from Texas to Connecticut...talk about a long ride. We always had Ford Country Squires too. All the clothing on top of the car, in an old foot locker dad had in the army. Mom would put an air mattress that fit exactly perfect in the back of the Station Wagon with quilts and my sister and I would ride back there with our toys. The only bad part about this was the fact that both mom and dad smoked and they would crack the rear window a little and all the smoke would travel back that way and about choke us to death. Sometimes we'd lie flat so we could breath. Neither my sister or I ever smoked as a result. It took us 2 days, traveling 70-80 mph. and lots of "Are we there yet?". Fun to rethink!

Anonymous said...

Loved this post... sounds like you grew up in the same years I did with a few of the same family vacation experiences.... Our family drove from Iowa to the East Coast. Five of us plus grandma... lol

The Blue Ridge Gal

Barb and Steve said...

I love hearing about everyone's vacations! What are our kid's saying about their vacations with us? :-)

Belovedgoddess said...

What a memory stirring post.
We suffered through many a trip to my grandparents place 600 miles away. Hot seats, 4 kids in the back - no seatbelts back then. A trip to Adelaide with 4 adults ad 4 kids in a station wagon. Mum holding the baby, a kid between her and Dad, Grandparents and another kid in the backseat while the other kid laid across the lugguage in the back. We had to make our own entertainment, lots of games of ispy - no reading because it only made us carsick.

Are we there yet?

Smart Mouth Broad said...

Your childhood reminds me of my own. I love the old pictures.

Kristin said...

This was so fun to read! It makes me think of all our road trips every June (also leaving at 4 am). All fond memories though. I can't wait to get back and hopefully take our future kids someday!